Sit-on-top vs Sit-inside kayaks

Not all kayaks are created equally. In this post we will go over the differences in Sit-on-top kayaks and Sit-inside kayaks. Both types of kayaks have their pros and cons and are called by numerous names, such as:

  • Sit on top
  • Open cockpit
  • Open deck


  • Sit inside
  • Closed cockpit
  • Closed deck

Open Cockpit

Lets get started with Sit-on-tops. I recommend Sit-on-tops for beginners or anyone who is uneasy about being on the water. Generally these boats are more stable but slower moving. They are great for those with limited mobility who struggle with getting their legs in and out of a cockpit as well as youth who can jump off and climb back on the kayak with little effort. Lets not forget the safety standpoint either. Sit-on top kayaks do not fill up with water and sink after capsizing like a sit-inside kayak does. Most Sit-on-tops even have what is called scupper holes in the bottom of the boat. These holes allow for water drainage without filling the kayak with water.
Most sit-on-top kayaks are going to be categorized as "recreational kayaks" as opposed to "Touring, Expedition or whitewater kayaks". Click here for more information on the difference in kayak lengths and hull designs.

As stated above, open cockpit kayaks have more drag because of their stability and cannot cut through water as easily as most closed kayaks, making them slower than their counterpart. Also because of their added stability open cockpits tend to be more vulnerable to the wind due to their bulk. This can be a problem if you are on a lake and want to travel in a straight line, or in inclement  weather. While these kayaks will have deck rigging, they still do not have the inside storage capacity that most closed cockpits have.

To summarize:


  • More stable
  • Easy to enter and exit
  • Does not fill with water after capsize
  • Most are self-bailing (draining)
  • Tan legs


  • Slow moving
  • More susceptible to wind and the possibility of getting wet
  • Less dry storage space
  • Less insulation in colder seasons

Closed Cockpit

Sit-inside kayaks are probably what comes to mind when you think of a traditional kayak. Sit -Inside kayaks can be specialized to different styles of kayaking and certain bodies of water. For example: Touring, expedition, recreational, whitewater, river runner, creekboating, etc. It is important to practice wet exits/re-entries in any type of kayak you're paddling, but especially in sit-insides as some people may become panicked and feel trapped in the event of a capsize.

I recommend sit-inside kayaks for people with a little more kayaking experience and those who want to paddle in more than just the hottest summer months. This is because a closed cockpit offers you more protection from the wind and rain in inclement weather, especially if you have a spray skirt on. Spray skirts also help keep your body heat inside the kayak. On the other hand, those of us wanting to tan our pasty white legs are going to have to modify our seating position on closed cockpit kayaks. If paddling with a spray skirt, it is important to practice wet-exits and even rolling (righting your kayak after capsize without getting out of the kayak).

While sit-on-tops gain their stability from wide, high volume hulls; Sit -Insides gain their stability from the riders lowered center of gravity. Which makes them capable of faster speeds compared to their open cockpit counterpart. There nothing quite like feeling the wind in your hair while you cruise the shoreline.

In Summary:


  • More Speed
  • less susceptible to wind and waves
  • More insulating in colder months
  • More dry storage space (if your kayak has bulkheads)
  • Ability to use a spray skirt and roll your kayak (Less wet exits)


  • Less primary stability
  • More difficult to re-enter after capsize/ wet-exit
  • Difficult to exit and enter cockpit
  • Will fill with water in event of capsize (unless you are wearing a skirt)

Regardless of what type of kayak you paddle, just get out there! Have fun and please be safe!